Europa Środkowo-WschodniaJan PomorskiKrzysztof Pomianmetodologia historiiOlga Tokarczukteoria historii
Jan Pomorski, "Polish Theory of History and Metahistory in Topolski, Pomian, and Tokarczuk". New York: Routledge 2024 (w druku).
This book traces the development of the Polish theory of history, analysing how Jerzy Topolski, Krzysztof Pomian, and Olga Tokarczuk have both built upon and transgressed the metahistorical theories of American historian Hayden White.
Poland’s reception of White’s work has gone through different phases, from distancing to a period of fascination and eventual critical analysis, beginning with Topolski’s methodological school in the 1980s. Topolski played a major role in international debates on historical theory in the second half of the 20th century. The book’s second study is a rare opportunity for English-speaking audiences to engage with the thoughts of Pomian, a philosopher and historian of ideas who has both complemented and developed theories of historical cognition independently from White. In the final chapter, the book presents a study of the historical imagination in 21st-century Central and Eastern Europe through the work of novelist Tokarczuk, the winner of the 2018 Nobel Prize in Literature. In considering the contributions of these three thinkers, the book explores the active process by which past becomes history and thus motivates contemporary actions and realities.
By deconstructing and reconstructing contemporary theories of history, this research is a unique contribution to the fields of historiography and the philosophy of history.
Introduction: The Polish theory of history owes much to the inspiration drawn from Hayden White’s ideas, but it is also a constant transgression of White’s thoughts. The cognising cultures of history that Topolski, Pomian, and Tokarczuk create and study bear the stamp of their “today”: the place and time in which they were created. And at the same time they show us, the recipients of their texts, how the past can be present – actively present – in our Contemporary. They demonstrate what causative power it has, both in motivating people to act and in ultimately and directly affecting their collective actions – the past as history. This is what distinguishes their approach to history from the metahistorical reflection of Hayden White, who, by default, avoids posing ontological questions.
Jerzy Topolski: From the methodology of history to the theory of historical narrative: A critical dialogue with Hayden White’s work began in Poland in the 1980s in the circle of Jerzy Topolski’s methodological school. The reception of the American metahistorian’s ideas in Poland has gone through different phases: from distancing, through sympathetic interpretation, a period of fascination, to critical analysis and a kind of dialectical Aufhebung, as the author will try to show in Chapter 1, devoted to the methodological thought of Jerzy Topolski (1928–1998). The oeuvre of this world-famous Polish methodologist and theoretician of history impresses with the sheer breadth of its subject matter: from the methodology of historical research/historical praxis and the theory of historical knowledge to the theory of historical narration and the history-making theory and its innovatory character. Similar to Hayden White’s, Topolski’s circle of reception and influence was global, though never as spectacular as the former. They grew out of different philosophical traditions (Marxism in the former case, analytic philosophy in the latter), and both were able to recognise the limitations of their backgrounds and develop their own theories, which brought them international recognition. No wonder then that the work of Jerzy Topolski is worthy of recognition and international promotion, all the more so because towards the end of his life he was working on an anti-White’s New Theory of Historical Narration, whose assumptions have been reconstructed here by Pomorski, thanks to notes found him in the Topolski’s private papers. The presentation of this original and unique theory of historical narration is the most important part of this chapter.
Historicity of the being: Krzysztof Pomian’s theory of history: Krzysztof Pomian, a Polish philosopher and cultural historian of Jewish descent, has been developing his epistemology of historical cognition parallel to Hayden White, though completely independent of him. Unfortunately, the Polish metahistorian is practically absent in the English-speaking world, since he wrote and published almost exclusively in Polish, French, and Italian. Pomian (b. 1934), barred from teaching at Warsaw University in Poland after 1968, emigrated to France, where he was a professor at the CNRS (Centre National de le Recherche Scientifique) until his retirement. White, who read Pomian in French, regarded him as one of the greatest minds of the 20th century and mentioned him as the final link in a chain of philosophical reflection on history as a science that leads from Droysen through Heidegger, Collingwood, Popper, and Koselleck. This study is a first in the world literature comprehensive attempt at offering a synthetic presentation of and a lecture on Pomian’s concepts, written especially for the English-speaking audience.
The historical imagination in 21st-century Central and Eastern Europe: The case of Olga Tokarczuk: As is well known, Hayden White was particularly interested in the historical imagination as an object of study. After all, he tested his theory of historical narrative on texts written by historians, philosophers, and writers alike. Therefore, he would probably particularly enjoy a study of the historical imagination in 21st-century Central and Eastern Europe, of which the 2018 Nobel Prize for Literature winner, Polish historical novelist Olga Tokarczuk, is the “bearer”. Her reading of the world is rooted in Central and Eastern Europe. It grows out of that culture. In the third and final study, Professor Pomorski will delve into Tokarczuk’s world of historical imagination. This is the world of a cognising culture of history from the perspective of a man of the Anthropocene epoch, reflecting on the fate that his contemporaries have inflicted on the world, aware that she herself – Olga Tokarczuk – is a link in a long chain of predecessors and successors, who on their pilgrimage – this category has an epistemic significance for the Nobel laureate, which is elaborated in this chapter – reflect on the world, history, and human nature, searching for meanings. Tokarczuk treats literature as a method of cognition, and as a tool of communication, creating a story about what she herself – while cognitively wandering through different times and cultures – has experienced. The author shows us what is her innovative contribution to the contemporary theory of historical narrative and metahistory.
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